Boston Police And Fire Hiring Practices Illegally Harm Minority Veterans

Employment, Police Accountability, Racial Justice

Civil Rights Groups Charge Police And Fire Department Hiring Practices Illegally Harm Boston’s Minority Veterans

Call For Civil Service Investigation Into Unauthorized Use Of Residence Preference

Boston, MA – Today, on behalf of the Boston Society of Vulcans (Vulcans), the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), and numerous concerned citizens, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice called for a Civil Service Commission Investigation into hiring practices that they say illegally disfavor Boston’s minority veterans.

According to the formal Investigation Request filed today, the Massachusetts Human Resources Division (HRD), the Boston Fire Department (BFD), and the Boston Police Department (BPD) illegally give Residence Preference to veterans who have not resided in Boston for one year immediately prior to the date of their civil service examination, as the law requires.  Because Boston is a more diverse city than the state as a whole, the civil rights groups charge that this unauthorized practice disproportionately harms Boston’s minority veterans – and contributes to the lack of racial diversity in BFD and BPD.  BFD is widely recognized as one of the least diverse City agencies, and BPD similarly fails to reflect Boston’s diversity.

“I am a Black Marine Corps veteran and a Boston resident for nearly all of my life.  I took the civil service examination three times to become a Boston Firefighter, but never got hired,” said Duaine Doyle, a Vulcans member and one of the individuals requesting this Civil Service Commission Investigation. “When Residence Preference is given to people who are not actual Boston residents like me, that harms the true Boston veterans and makes the City’s public safety agencies less diverse.”

According to Sophia Hall, Staff Attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee, Residence Preference in hiring is critically important for limited yet highly-sought after positions in Boston’s public safety agencies because it allows individuals to be placed higher on the eligible civil service list than non-resident applicants. “The law is clear that Residence Preference is only supposed to apply to those who have lived in Boston for at least one year,” Attorney Hall stated.  “But HRD, BFD, and BPD instead allow individuals who have never lived here to claim Residence Preference, as long as they say they plan to move here when they are discharged from the military.  That’s unfair to true Boston resident veterans.  It also violates the law and contributes to the lack of diversity at BFD and BPD.”

MAMLEO President, Larry Ellison added, “For 50 years, MAMLEO has actively sought to improve the recruitment, hiring and advancement of minority candidates. In the same vein, we want to make sure that civil service laws are being correctly and fairly applied to veterans of color.”

Attorney Hall cited unauthorized use of Residence Preference as one of many ways that BFD and BPD skirt the law in ways that undermine diversity efforts, including in the agencies’ civilian workforces.  Other such practices include:

  • inappropriate use of “bypasses” to skip over highly-qualified applicants of color for public safety jobs;
  • disparate discipline of public safety employees of color, as found by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination;
  • use of promotional examinations found by federal courts to discriminate against employees of color; and
  • use of the discredited “hair drug test” that disproportionately results in false positives for Black police officers, which has been found by courts to be discriminatory and scientifically unreliable, and is currently the subject of a federal civil rights case set for trial in March 2018.

Attorney Hall stated that the goal of today’s Request for Investigation is to bring Residence Preference practices into compliance with state law.  She noted that the Civil Service Commission has previously conducted investigations of BPD and required reforms.

This matter was featured in the Boston Globe, BNN News, Dorchester Reporter, WGBH, and WBUR.